Dr Bruce King, Diabetes Researcher, tells us about his current research

This year, Dr Bruce King received the Diabetes Australia Research Program Millennium Award for Type 1 Research: Testing the SCENIC algorithm for announced and unannounced meals in people with type 1 diabetes. He shares his insights into the research and how he got involved.

How did you become involved in diabetes research?

I have always been struck by the profound impact diabetes has on people’s lives. After I finished my PhD and started working as a paediatric diabetes specialist, I decided that more needed to be done to decrease the burden of diabetes and improve glucose control and long term outcomes.

The other members of the paediatric diabetes team at John Hunter Children’s Hospital in Newcastle felt the same way and we have been able to build a strong dedicated research team. We consider the bionic pancreas (closed loop insulin pump) to have the potential to profoundly improve people’s lives. We have joined forces with Laureate Professor Graham Goodwin’s team of system control engineers from the Centre for Dynamic Systems and Control at the University of Newcastle, to form a group that is specifically working on the bionic pancreas.

Currently the bionic pancreas is for research only. Many centres around the world are working to make it available. We believe that much of the research has been slow because a control system called model predictive control is the basis of many systems. Unfortunately, model predictive control was not designed for the bionic pancreas and to date has had limited success stopping hypoglycaemia and has been unable to cope with the glucose variability that comes with food and exercise.

We have developed a novel new algorithm that is specifically designed for the purpose of integrating all the factors required to control a bionic pancreas. Because the algorithm can take many aspects into consideration we have called it SCENIC. We hope that this control system will increase the rate of bionic pancreas development.

What is the aim of your project?

The SCENIC algorithm has been extensively tested using a diabetes simulator with outstanding results. The diabetes simulator has American Food Drug Administration approval for preclinical studies but we now need to test SCENIC in real people.

The aim of the study is to test SCENIC in people with type 1 diabetes to determine its capabilities. This study will allow further development of SCENIC.

How will funding from Diabetes Australia assist your research?

To date, it has been hard for grant funding bodies to take SCENIC seriously because it has only ever been tested in a simulator. Studies in people with type 1 diabetes are needed for the wider research community to appreciate that SCENIC has the potential to fill many of the gaps/deficiencies with the model predictive control system. This generous grant from Diabetes Australia will allow us to do these trials.

Dr Bruce is based at the John Hunter Children's Hospital.

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A version of this interview previously appeared in the Winter 2015 Circle magazine.

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